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Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Parker Pearson et al under scrutiny -- more scientific misconduct?

On looking back at the literature over the past couple of years, I have been reassessing the following:

Parker Pearson, M., Pollard, J., Richards, C., Schlee, D., and Welham, K. (2016).  "In search of the Stonehenge Quarries,"  British Archaeology,  Jan/Feb 2016, pp 16-23.

Parker Pearson, M. (2016).  "Secondhand Stonehenge?  Welsh Origins of a Wiltshire monument."  Current Archaeology 311 (2016), pp 18-22.

Both of these articles were published in the spring of 2016, about three months after the publication of the QN article by Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd, John Downes and me.  That article, peer-reviewed and revised on the advice of referees and editor, described the landforms and stratigraphy at Rhosyfelin and made the point that there was no trace of a Neolithic bluestone quarry at the site, no matter what the geological affinities with Stonehenge might be.  Parker Pearson, Pollard, Richards, Schlee and Welham (all senior archaeologists) must have known about the paper, and they must all have read it.  They must also have been fully aware of the "media storm" that followed in December 2015 when their big Antiquity paper was published within a few days of our second paper in Archaeology in Wales.  There were literally hundreds of write-ups in the press and in magazines, and on digital media as well. The great majority talked about the dispute.  Assorted academics made comments on the record, flagging up the fundamental disagreement between one group of specialists and the other.

In spite of all this furore, the two articles mentioned above blithely promote the bluestone quarrying hypothesis and make no mention of any inconvenient evidence or academic dispute. 

So there are two question here.  Did the authors of the two articles mentioned above have time to react to the publication of our two articles in November and December ?  And should they have changed their texts, even a proof stage, in order to inform their readers that their assumptions about bluestone quarrying were not universally accepted?  The answer to the first question is undoubtedly "Yes".  They had two months to make corrections and adjustments, and if they had requested relatively minor changes I am sure that the Editor would have agreed.  And the answer to the second question is also "Yes" -- since a responsibility is always placed upon authors to provide reliable information and to avoid the pretence of certainty in cases where there is doubt.  As mentioned in our earlier post
a deliberate failure to cite "inconvenient" publications or data is tantamount to falsification, fabrication and the intentional distortion of the research situation.  That is rather a serious matter.

I haven't checked up on all the universities represented here, but MPP works at University College London, and all universities have Ethical Guidelines which staff and researchers are supposed to adhere to.  The internal guidelines generally insist on publication of research results in a responsible and timely manner, in a form accessible to other interested parties, with research results preserved for future reference in cases where replication might be needed.  It goes without saying that all academic authors must also adhere to COPE guidelines, which state:

Researchers should present their results honestly and without fabrication, falsification or inappropriate data manipulation. 

Reports of research should be complete. They should not omit inconvenient, inconsistent or inexplicable findings or results that do not support the authors’ or sponsors’ hypothesis or interpretation.

Authors should cooperate with editors in issuing corrections or retractions when required.

Authors should represent the work of others accurately in citations and quotations.

New findings should be presented in the context of previous research. The work of others should be fairly represented. Scholarly reviews and syntheses of existing research should be complete, balanced, and should include findings regardless of whether they support the hypothesis or interpretation being proposed.

From COPE website:  Wager E & Kleinert S (2011) Responsible research publication: international standards for authors. A position statement developed at the 2nd World Conference on Research Integrity, Singapore, July 22-24, 2010. Chapter 50 in: Mayer T & Steneck N (eds) Promoting Research Integrity in a Global Environment. Imperial College Press / World Scientific Publishing, Singapore (pp 309-16). (ISBN 978-981-4340-97-7)

Well, I have grumbled before about the complete lack of research diaries or field reports representing seven seasons of excavations in the field.  Parker Pearson and his colleagues have behaved neither in a responsible nor a timely fashion.  Nor is there a single paper which presents in a satisfactory and scientific manner the findings in the digs at Rhosyfelin, Carn Goedog and a number of other sites. (The paper published in Antiquity in December 2015 is far adrift of the standard required, and does not withstand scrutiny.)

Mike Parker Pearson, Richard Bevins, Rob Ixer, Joshua Pollard, Colin Richards, Kate Welham, Ben Chan, Kevan Edinborough, Derek Hamilton, Richard Macphail, Duncan Schlee, Jean-Luc Schwenninger, Ellen Simmons and Martin Smith (2015). Craig Rhos-y-felin: a Welsh bluestone megalith quarry for Stonehenge.   Antiquity, 89 (348) (Dec 2015), pp 1331-1352. 

The published material in the British Archaeology and Current Archaeology articles is examined in these two blog posts:

It's pretty clear that the COPE guidelines have been broken in both of the articles cited at the head of this post --since they have wilfully ignored two relevant -- but seriously inconvenient -- papers that should have been cited and discussed.  This constitutes scientific misconduct.  The only extenuating circumstance is the limited amount of "revision time" available to MPP and his colleagues between our publication dates and theirs.

So let's be forgiving for the moment.  But if this pattern of behaviour (ie the wilful refusal to acknowledge the existence of "inconvenient" research) is repeated in future publications,  I might start getting upset.


chris johnson said...

The enthusiasm I witnessed in the first years of the dig from MPP team has not resulted in the delivery of what they were hoping: spectacular and unarguable results, and best practice conditions for student learning, setting examples how things should be done.

The lack of publications detailing what has been found while digging up hundreds of square metres of the most intriguing regions in the Prescellis is particularly disappointing.

It would also be professional and an example to the London University students should MPP respond to Brian's papers.

TonyH said...

Agree wholeheartedly, Chris. And the silence from other archaeological professionals elsewhere in the UK is deafening, yet speaks volumes.

BRIAN JOHN said...

What really interests me is this: Why is there no effective scrutiny from within the archaeological community? OK -- you have 14 authors of that terrible Antiquity paper (essentially all those who are involved in the Pembrokeshire Quarry Hunt) who are now stuffed and forced into silence because of this absurd corporate responsibility convention; but where are all the other professionals who should be going on the record to express their concerns about the lack of detailed publications and the endless regurgitation of assertions and speculations unsupported by evidence? Are they all cowed into silence by MPP's seniority and "eminence"? It really is bizarre.....

I know I have been critical enough on this blog of Tim Darvill and Geoff Wainwright in the past -- but I do happily acknowledge that they have always published field reports in a responsible and timely fashion, and have had the good grace to recognize "alternative interpretations" and to cite papers that they might not necessarily agree with. That is what academic discourse should be like.

Gordon said...

Unfortunately it seems to be a remit for all archaeologists to ritualise everything,and create a mythological story of our prehistory.We now live in a land where we have "hillforts"that were never forts,"Roundhouses"that were never lived in,"Settlements that were never settled,"Field systems"that never contained a crop and "Prehistoric villages" that were nothing of the sort.Are these people working to a script? Who sets the guidelines?Maybe,if instead of scrutinising some of their wilder theories sensibly,we just ridiculed them.We could give awards for the daftest theory it could be the Francis Pryor award since he seems to come up with some of the daftest.Could i please put forward the chap who described the process of putting hot stones in water in order to make the water boil as "thermo lithic technology"

BRIAN JOHN said...

Sound thinking, Gordon. I do have a little sympathy with the archaeologists, whi have understandably got a bit fed up with "typology" or with describing and classifying features on the basis of their physical characteristics. Clearly they want to go on and ask "what were all these things intended for?" Investigations of process followed by investigations of purpose. But I do agree that there seems to be an obsession with ritual and a tendency to romanticise -- and an accompanying failure to give due respect to the utilitarian purposes of the great majority of prehistoric features in the landscape. Stephen Briggs and various others have pointed this out, but nobody much listens to them. "Neolithic farmer builds wall to keep sheep from straying" does not make a very good media headline.........

Gordon said...

On a slight aside,i have been reviewing the popular posts playing catch up.After viewing the post referring to rope technology,a valid point i thought,and the responses to your question,i typed solent boat 6000b.c into google the pdf from the maritime archaeological trust was very informative.It seems that certain people were literally grasping at straws.

TonyH said...

Gordon, having just taken a look at an article from The Independent on the same Mesolithic subject, i.e. the discoveries off Bouldner, Isle of Wight, there is remarkable evidence for wheat reaching coastal Britain 6000 BC. We have occasionally mentioned this Mesolithic underwater site before. Potential implications for Blick Mead Mesolithic site on the edge of Amesbury, and, indeed, Mesolithic evidence closer to Stonehenge vicinity.